Build up your tolerance gradually: Many people quit retinol early on because of red, irritated skin. To start, apply every third night for the first few weeks, adding a night every week thereafter. If you put it on five nights in a row right off the bat, you'll probably peel like crazy.
This tempers the drying effects of retinol with moisturizing hyaluronic acid—plus it isn't too heavy for combination skin. TOPIX REPLENIX RETINOL PLUS SMOOTHING SERUM, $56, AMAZON.COM
Apply at night only, when your skin does most of its repair work anyway. Sunlight deactivates retinoic acid—and causes inflammation.
A retinol treatment with a particularly high concentration of free-radical-zapping vitamins. Suitable for most skin types. NEUTROGENA DEEP WRINKLE MOISTURE NIGHT FROM AGELESS INTENSIVES, $20, DRUGSTORES.
Use only alcohol-free toner—the others are too drying. And don't apply retinoids to wet skin. "All antiagers are more intense—and thus more irritating—when your skin is wet," says New York dermatologist Doris Day.
Rose water and chamomile are the perfect anti-inflammatory pairing—and
the tonic's gently moisturizing too. C.O. BIGELOW
ROSE WATER SKIN TONIC, $15, BBW.COM
Rule 3 cont.
There's so much that's good in this silky fluid: vitamin C, ceramides, organic argan oil, myriad antioxidant botanicals, and caffeine. AVEDA GREEN SCIENCE REPLENISHING TONER, $39, AVEDA.COM
Since all retinoids are drying, layer on moisturizer afterward if needed. Dr. Brandt recommends one packed with anti-inflammatories and peptides: "Peptides aren't at all irritating and help increase collagen production and minimize lines," he says. "It's like icing on the cake." A cream retinoid like Renova counters the effect by providing some cushioning, as do time-release formulas, like Retin-A Micro.
An incredible moisturizer—it's extra-rich yet sinks in immediately upon contact—with vitamin B5 and an amino-peptide complex. OLAY REGENERIST DEEP HYDRATION REGENERATING CREAM, $19, DRUGSTORES.
Rule 4 cont.
The key skin healer here comes from the essential oil of a rare Corsican flower; you get tons of vitamin C too. L'OCCITANE EN PROVENCE IMMORTELLE DIVINE CREAM, $95, USA.LOCCITANE.COM
Rule 4 cont.
This blend of phospholipids, omega-3 essential fatty acids, and recently discovered peptides really improves texture. DR. BRANDT TIME ARREST FACE FLUID, $90, DRBRANDTSKINCARE.COM
Once you're tolerating a retinoid well on the rest of your face, you can proceed with caution into the eye area. And don't just treat your face. "Most people get a great response on the neck, chest, and hands," says Dr. Wechsler.
The high concentration of retinol comes in a gentle time-release formula
that's nicely lightweight. SKINCEUTICALS RETINOL 1.0 , $56, SKINCEUTICALS.COM
Additional skincare treatments—benzoyl peroxide, skin acids, vitamin C, or other antiagers—should be applied only in the morning.
An ultra-concentrated dose of high-tech wrinkle fighters and alpha hydroxy acids.
AVON ANEW REVERSALIST RENEWAL SERUM, $44, AVON.COM
Rule 6 cont.
A vitamin- and caffeine-packed super-solution that feels cool going on.
GARNIER NUTRITIONISTE SKIN RENEW AWAKENING FACE MASSAGER, $13, DRUGSTORES.
Wear minimum SPF30 every day, even if you have darker skin. All retinoids leave you extra vulnerable to UV damage. In dark skin, sun exposure can cause pigmentation and splotchiness.
One of our favorite daily sunscreens in a big, fat lasts-forever tube—and
we love that it's all-natural. BURT'S BEES CHEMICAL-FREE SUNSCREEN SPF30 , $15, BURTSBEES.COM
Exfoliate regularly. Retinoids make your cells all turn over at the same time, almost like synchronized swimming, for an all-around smoother look; they also loosen dead skin cells, helping them peel off more easily. Extra exfoliating might sound fanatical—but for most people, it's crucial to helping the process along. Do it once or twice a week if you have oily skin, once a week if your skin is normal, and not at all if you're sensitive.
"The ultrasonic movement is unbelievably gentle but gets everything off," says Dr. Day. Clarisonic Skin Care System , $195, SEPHORA.COM
Rule 8 cont.
The crystals in this are near-microscopic—there is literally no possibility of overdoing it—and chamomile brings down any wayward redness. ST. IVES TIMELESS SKIN DAILY MICRODERMABRASION, $5, DRUGSTORES.
If you do peel, despite all your precautions, lay off the retinoid for a few days and apply an anti-inflammatory lotion.
This tempers the drying effects of retinol with moisturizing hyaluronic acid—plus it isn't too heavy for combination skin. PATRICIA WEXLER M.D. DERMATOLOGY SENSITIVE SKIN MMPi20 COMFORTING & RENEWING SERUM, $55, BBW.COM
Never, ever wax. If you use a prescription version of Retin-A, any kind of facial wax can tear your skin and leave a serious scar. Even people on nonprescription retinol should be careful—especially those with sensitive skin.